In recent years London’s New Diorama Theatre has established itself as a home for emerging companies to develop, flourish creatively, and forge viable and sustainable careers as theatre practitioners.
New Diorama Theatre have also started offering the country’s finest young regional theatre companies Two Night Stands – two performances completely free of charge and on which the company gets to keep 100% of the box office designed as an investment back into their work
In a large part this is due to the theatre’s inventive and extensive network of financial support, education and commitment to making theatre accessible to all.
Now, New Diorama, which celebrates its fifth Birthday this year, has consolidated all of this passion and innovation into the country’s most ambitious Artist Development Programme, one with the potential to guide talented fledgling or graduate companies from student festivals to full productions, and on to longer runs and national and international tours.
Producing theatre can require an amount of cash-in-hand that is often unrealistic for young companies, especially touring or taking work to festivals – where box-office taking are released long after the shows have finished. New Diorama have therefore established a 'Cash Flow Fund' – effectively a cooperative bank for theatre companies which provides interest free loans for these up-front production costs that may be a barrier to talented groups being able to showcase their work. This was the case for Kill The Beast who were able to take comedy horror He Had Hairy Hands to Edinburgh thanks to a £4,000 cash-flow loan for wages, accommodation and venue deposit. The show has since won multiple awards (including a Peter Brook Award and a Manchester Theatre Award), gained Arts Council England funding towards a National Tour and played to a series of sold-out audiences.
Elsewhere, the programme is split into two components; one aimed at companies who have not worked with New Diorama before, and one aimed at those who have.
The former comprises the ‘NSDF Pickles Fund’ which New Diorama, in partnership with universities around the country, uses to fund up to six emerging student companies’ entry to the prestigious National Student Drama Festival. Among previous recipients are Pub Corner Poets, whose uncompromising beat-poetry play Angry won the Sunday Times Playwriting Award, which drove it on to runs in Edinburgh and at New Diorama and A Younger Theatre’s Incoming Festival.
On graduating, companies can further their theatrical education through New Diorama’s Graduate Emerging Companies Programme, which teaches companies the important aspects of the theatre business which bridge the gap between education and professional practice, as well as offering each company a chance to showcase their work at New Diorama completely free of charge, and keep 100% of the box office. Yorkshire-based The Roaring Girls’ selection for the 2015 pilot programme has resulted in a successful application to Arts Council England and the company are now working with Hull Truck Theatre on their new show.
Even for young companies who have already produced quality work, performing in London can be prohibitively expensive, so New Diorama Theatre have also started offering the country’s finest young regional theatre companies 'Two Night Stands' – two performances completely free of charge and on which the company gets to keep 100% of the box office designed as an investment back into their work, the only 0/100 split of this kind in the country. In October 2015 Breach Theatre sold out both performances of their critically acclaimed historical exploration of law and order and civil liberties The Beanfield and made £1350, an investment they used to leverage their first successful Arts Council England grant and tour the show nationally.
Another exciting and financially viable opportunity for twenty of the best young companies to showcase their work is New Diorama and A Younger Theatre’s Incoming Festival, which sees 20 young companies perform across 10 days in a celebration of new theatre, where tickets are only £5. Each company receives a fee for their performances as well as 50% of the box office and a chance to play to a new and expansive audience. Incoming Festival also plays host to a partnership between New Diorama, AYT and the Peter Brook Awards, The Peter Brook Festival Award which sees one company receive a cheque for £1000.
For companies who already work with New Diorama Theatre, there are various opportunities to further expand and develop skillsets, make new work and play to larger audiences:
The Emerging Companies Scheme provides companies who have had initial artistic success with the entrepreneurial and organisational skills to become a full-time professional organisation through a series of workshops and networking sessions led by industry experts. Each company is also given an opportunity to perform at New Diorama for which they are paid a fee and keep 100% of the box office. Alumni of this scheme include Lost Watch, who now regularly perform at New Diorama and Greenwich Theatre, and have toured internationally with NDT’s support.
With astronomical theatre rents often denying companies the longer performance runs they need to truly develop, each year New Diorama gives two emerging companies a 'Gifted Week' – a week-long performance, including rehearsal time, marketing and PR support free of charge with the company keeping 100% of the box office. In late 2014 Rhum and Clay followed a successful Gifted Week performing visually striking psychological thriller 64 Squares with a sold-out Edinburgh Festival run and critical acclaim.
As well as this practical support New Diorama’s Artist Development Programme also includes many initiatives designed to galvanise personal development, equality, diversity and accessibility in theatre, including a Female Leadership Fund, a brand new rehearsal space - The BAMER Companies Project – which will provide free, no strings attached, rehearsal and development space for BAME theatre companies for 40 weeks a year in Central London, European Theatre Travel Grants to allow companies to develop in accordance with international best practices, in-house technical, marketing and press support, partnerships with regional theatres and universities, full disabled access and STAGETEXT Captioned Performances of almost every show which runs for a week or longer.
New Diorama’s Artistic Director David Byrne said of the new Programme:
“This programme is the culmination of five years work here at New Diorama. When we opened we wanted to have the best Artist Development Programme for theatre companies anywhere in the UK. I think this announcement, full of new ideas and ways of working, really will put us at the centre of the debate as to how we support early-career artists in the country.
A debate that’s particularly important at the moment: times are hard for theatre-makers and I’ve now read every single artist development policy in the country and I think we need to do more.”